Police mistakes “probably” contributed to the deaths of victims of serial killer Stephen Port, an inquest jury has found.
Port is serving a whole-life sentence for the murders of four young men in Barking, east London, during a 16-month killing spree.
Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, and Jack Taylor were all plied with fatal doses of the “date rape” drug GHB by Port, who was dubbed the “Grindr killer” for the way he scouted his victims on the gay dating app.
Long-awaited inquests have heard evidence of a series of failings by the Metropolitan Police during their investigations, as jurors considered whether they contributed to the deaths.
Police initially failed to link the fatalities despite their striking similarities, with the bodies of three victims found at the same graveyard and Mr Walgate left outside Port’s block of flats in Barking.
An inquest jury found that police failings in the investigation into the death of Mr Walgate, Port’s first victim, “probably” contributed to the fatalities of Mr Kovari and Mr Whitworth.
Errors in the police investigations into all three deaths also “probably” contributed to the fatality of Port’s final victim, Mr Taylor, the panel concluded.
In written conclusions, the jury acknowledged officers’ “heavy workload” but said there were failures that “cannot be overlooked”.
Mr Whitworth’s partner, Ricky Waumsley, called for Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to resign following the jury’s findings.
The inquests heard that officers failed to follow leads, murder detectives turned down requests from borough officers to take over the investigations, and concerns from the victims’ families were ignored.
Police had seized Port’s laptop after the death of the first victim but failed to submit it for forensic analysis for 10 months, and then missed repeated searches for drug rape videos contained on the device.
John Pape, a friend of Mr Kovari, accused the Met Police of “institutional homophobia”, saying: “The only thing that makes sense about how disturbingly incompetent this investigation was is prejudice.”
Coroner Sarah Munro QC ruled out homophobia as an issue in the case, telling jurors they could not find that “prejudice or homophobia or discrimination on the part of the police made any contribution to the deaths”.
Family outrage over ‘abominable’ investigation
Daniel Whitworth’s stepmother Mandy told Sky News she believed institutional homophobia in the Met Police was “part of the recipe of disaster”.
“I think there’s an element of homophobia, but I also believe it was habitual,” she said.
“I think they got into a habit of working that didn’t involve any kind of curiosity or looking deeper than they needed to.”
Daniel’s father Adam Whitworth branded the standard of the police investigation “abominable”, and the couple believe his death could have been avoided.
“Time after time after time, from top to bottom in the Barking borough, the performance of the police has been inexplicable,” Mr Whitworth said.
Police ‘deeply sorry’ for missed opportunities
A Met Police chief apologised to the victims’ families during the inquest, saying he was “deeply sorry” there were a number of opportunities missed to arrest Port.
Deputy assistant commissioner Stuart Cundy, who led a review of the investigations into the deaths of Port’s murder victims, said it was “quite astonishing” that some officers did not follow instructions to get evidence in the case.
Mr Cundy said the victims’ family members “should not have been ignored” and there was a “clear possibility that Stephen Port could have been identified and arrested sooner than he was”.
Following the jury’s findings, Met Police Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball apologised but denied the force was homophobic.
She said: “We don’t see institutional homophobia. We don’t see homophobia on the part of our officers. We do see all sorts of errors in the investigation, which came together in a truly dreadful way.”
The coroner said she would write a prevention of future deaths report, to be published in the new year, adding: “These inquests, on any view, have raised a number of serious concerns.”
All four of Port’s victims were unlawfully killed, the jury recorded.